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Heal Toxics is a member of the International POPs Elimination Network

This website provides resources on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) such as pesticides, dioxins, PCBs, and wastes. Valuable examples of community monitoring of health and environmental impacts of toxic chemicals are also furnished.

Further, there is an entire section devoted to chemical safety in its proper socio-political context or in relation to issues such as globalization and people's empowerment.

 

Mindanao Farmers Oppose BT Corn

By Dennis Espada, Bulatlat.com

More than a thousand farmers, lumads, workers and students stormed the gates of Monsanto Philippines in General Santos City, South Cotabato last May 27. The protesters were opposing the massive selling and planting of a Bt-corn brand labeled as Dekalb 818 YG, owned and produced by Monsanto. They said that Dekalb 818 YG has caused illnesses to humans and has poisoned the environment.
In December 2002, the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Plant Industry (DA-BPI) had approved Monsanto’s application for the commercialization of Bt-corn, a variety that contains genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and the first biotech food crop to be planted in Asia.
Farmer’s’ testimonies

BPI’s approval of the commercialization of Bt-corn was partly based on local field trial results that showed significant increases in the yield of corn with reduced pesticide applications, which agriculture officials claim will increase farmers' income.

Other farmers, however, refuted Monsanto’s claims of “higher yields and income.” Boy Gonzales, a corn farmer from Sara town, Iloilo in the Visayas region said that despite being resistant to corn borer, Bt-corn fields were infested by stalk rot (a fungus that caused the withering of the corn’s stalks and leaves), plant hoppers and other pests. Stalk rot, he said, has destroyed nearly 40 percent of all the crops planted in their area.

According to the Magsasaka at Siyentipiko para sa Pag-unlad ng Agrikultura or Masipag (Peasants-Scientists’ Partnership for Agricultural Development), an organization promoting sustainable agriculture, the price of Dekalb seeds is P4,500 for each sack, which is double compared to the cost of both ordinary and hybrid seeds, which costs only P2,300.
Masipag’s studies reveal that as of 2003, the crop has been propagated in 20,000 hectares of land across the country. Such lofty costs, Masipag concludes, will push farmers to further bankruptcy.

"Kahit gumamit ng Bt-corn, hindi pa rin makakaahon sa kahirapan ang mga magsasaka dahil ang pangunahing suliranin niya ay ang kawalan ng taba ng lupa, ang mababang presyo ng mais sa pamilihan, mataas na usura at iba pa” (Even if we use BT corn, farmers still cannot emerge from poverty because our main problem is the infertility of the soil, the low price of corn in the market, usury, and others), Gonzales added.

Precaution as principle

Last year, around 51 local residents of Sitio Kalyong, Barangay Landan in Polomolok town, South Cotabato underwent medical treatment after being taken ill with colds, fever, abdominal pains, headaches and breathing difficulties with unexplained causes. Victims said they got sick after smelling a foul odor coming from the pollens of a nearby Bt-corn field which was about 100 meters away from their houses.

Last March, Norwegian scientist Dr. Terje Traavik of the Institute of Gene Ecology said that vestiges of Bt toxin were detected in the blood samples of the victims, causing the production of antibodies.

The DA appears to be indifferent to these findings, however.

Pablo Senon, a farmer-leader from Polomolok, decried: “What saddens me is that the government has not conducted scientific tests to determine if Bt-corns are safe. Instead their attention is focused on defending Monsanto.”

A report by online news agency MindaNews said a Monsanto official based in this city had brushed aside the findings of Traavik.

“We really don’t know how they were able to determine such findings. I think it’s a biased result considering that they came from those opposing our product,” Monsanto’s technology development executive Francisco Camacho was quoted as saying.

In a statement, Masipag said the whole point of Traavik's study—-though not yet conclusive-—is to “emphasize the need for identifying and recognizing uncertainties that could compromise the human health and the environment” as it stressed the importance of “precautionary principle” in the trans-boundary propagation of GMOs. The Norwegian scientist believes that many species and cultures could be at risk with its "yet-to-be determined impacts on biodiversity and human health.”
Lethal science?

Formed in 1901 in Missouri, U.S. Monsanto’s business extends to more than 60 countries today. It has major chemical plants in Argentina, Belgium and Brazil and owns land, manufacturing and agricultural facilities in all the continents.

Sarah Wright, a member of Seattle-based organization PressurePoint and author of “Selling Food.Health.Hope: The Real Story Behind Monsanto Corporation,” told local journalists in a media briefing held here that what is less known about the company is “its shameful history of polluting towns and rivers, and creating toxic chemicals including the notorious Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War.”

The American military has used the Agent Orange, a lethal herbicide, to defoliate the thick forest cover of Vietnam.

"What is amazing and truly disturbing is the fact that Monsanto, which has been selling itself as a clean and green, trustworthy company, has been involved in shady cases and dirty tactics over the years. Monsanto’s chemicals have caused cancers, birth defects and other forms of health problems. Its agrochemical products such as pesticides that were already banned in other countries are being sold here in the country. This is the company which the Philippine government is reportedly trusting to demonstrate the safety of GMOs," Wright told Bulatlat.com in an interview.

In Anniston, Alabama, about 3,500 local residents filed a case against Monsanto for “poisoning and lying to their community.” According to a report by the Washington Post, the company has been dumping toxic waste such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) into a creek for nearly 40 years. The pollution scale was so extreme that if a fish was put into that creek, it will turn “belly-up within 10 seconds, spurting blood and shedding skin as if dropped into boiling water.”

“The Monsanto management was so focused in making money…completely regardless of any social and environmental risks,” Wright added
Trampling on farmers’ rights

“Seeds are enriched for thousands of generations by farmers. Therefore, it should be owned by all,” asserted Igmedio Facunla, a peasant leader from Nueva Ecija in Luzon. Facunla is the secretary-general of the Alyansa ng Magsasaka sa Gitnang Luzon (AMGL) and chairman of Masipag.

In the May 27 protest action, Facunla declared Monsanto “guilty” of crimes said to have been committed against poor farmers. “They’re guilty of trampling on farmer’s rights to genetic resources, seeds, land and technologies,” he said.

The mobilization was organized by Masipag as a culmination of their weeklong General Assembly held in Santo Nino town, South Cotabato. Other organizations which participated in the mobilization were local chapters of Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP), South East Asia Regional Initiatives for Community Empowerment (SEARICE), Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and progressive partylist groups Bayan Muna, Anak ng Bayan, Gabriela, Anakpawis and Suara Bangsamoro.

Meanwhile, a source from Monsanto, who refused to be identified, told this writer that it is everyone's right to protest but maintains that the management has denied all the issues being raised by the protesters.

 

©heal toxics, 2003
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Mindanao Farmers Oppose BT Corn (by Bulatlat.com)

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